PETER FARRELL AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Case Number: 3151
Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2021
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
CASE NO: 3151
RULING BY THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINT OF PETER FARRELL AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD
FINDING: INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED
DATE: NOVEMBER 2021
The New Zealand Herald ran an article on November 16, 2021, headlined There’s a high chance of a domestic terror attack before 2022 ends. The by-lined opinion piece by a Herald senior staff writer speculated that if the attack comes it will be connected to the protest movement that has grown around Covid-19 issues.
Peter Farrell complained that the article was inaccurate and a matter of conjecture. The headline’s only apparent purpose was to stir up fear and animosity towards a segment of society. He speculated that given the animosity towards the unvaccinated this article had more chance of inciting an attack against the unvaccinated.
The Media Council notes that this was not a news report but an opinion piece. It was considered under Principle 4 (comment and fact) that applies to such commentary. This states: A clear distinction should be drawn between factual information and comment or opinion. An article that is essentially comment or opinion should be clearly presented as such. Material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate.
The article was clearly marked as opinion. The Media Council also observes that there was a factual basis for the author’s opinion about the risk of a terror attack when he cited a report by the Combined Threat Assessment Group.
This concluded there was a medium threat level which meant “a terrorist attack is assessed as feasible and could well occur.”
The level of threat was partly based on the impact of the March 15 terror attack, partly on external online influence and partly on pressures created by the pandemic. The report also warned of a realistic possibility that cumulative factors, such as Covid-19 associated grievances and growing international and political and social tensions, have increased the number of individuals in New Zealand motivated by personal grievances or single issues.
The Media Council finds that given the opinions expressed by the writer were based on an official assessment it was not wrong to say a terrorist attack likely and that it could be pandemic related. We note the article said it was “likely”, was “feasible and could well occur” and the headline said there was a “high chance” but nothing turns on that.
There were insufficient grounds to proceed.